Sunday, August 19, 2007

Long live kids' book illustration?

I've been a bit silent. I've been busy with deadlines. I don't want to talk about that, however.

Thanks to all of my medical nonsense--I have small fiber neuropathy.... I have lead poisoning... my lyme test is so-so... I might have something very serious that’s like MS... (one must wonder what anyone would find if they were tested as much as me!) all of this has caused me to become VERY interested in the medical field. I read up on everything the doctors mention. I don’t' just read to find out about myself. I read because I find it fascinating.

Then I got an idea. Why not try medical illustration? I can do very realistic, detailed drawings so I'm the perfect candidate. I also don't get grossed out easily.

My fantasizing has gotten more serious lately. I investigated taking classes at Columbia medical, etc. I've been looking at a lot of medical illustrations. One of those instances was while at Physical therapy. The doctor there told me that he has a patient who is quite successful at it, although is now retiring. He said he'd ask about it for me. He told me this week that she said not to bother... that illustration is being outsourced! Goodness. I guess I'll be continuing to make books (don't get me wrong, I love making books.. I'm just a bit burnt out). There's even a website called - on it says that US illustrators charge too much--100 -150 an hour... and those illustrations take a LONG time... which means buying a medical illustration is expensive. Okay, whom are the people buying these illustrations? Some of them are the drug companies--plenty of money there. I'm not feeling bad for them because they have to pay up. But now India is taking over?

So my question is--will this happen to kids' books? Will US publishers discover that they can buy illustrators on the cheap somewhere else? My only solace is that kids' books requires more of an understanding of the language--illustrators are not just copying what's in front of them from photo to colored pencil drawing. And don't forget about the wonderful package deals like many of the BRG offer. We can write and illustrate! That has to be worth something. Especially because, in my opinion, books written and illustrated by the same person have the potential to be better (an argument for another day!)

I will conclude with this. The heyday of the illustrator is over. Goodbye Norman Rockwell. Hello stock photography. Even when I was in school, which wasn't THAT long ago, editorial work was good. It's not now. One of the only safe places left is a kids’ book. I guess we should all enjoy it while it lasts!



alvinaling said...

I can't see this ever happening to children's picturebook illustration, at least not anytime soon. Trade publishing is all about the talent, the authors and illustrators, not about finding the cheapest way to publish a book. Don't worry!

Although yes, we do use a lot of stock photography when it comes to our novel covers...but we also still use photo shoots and illustrators, too. It depends on the needs of the individual book.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Well, Alvina, apparently they're very talented in India.


Unknown said...

Oh please, do not EVER let our illustration be outsourced too! You're right, the need for an understanding of the story, the culture and more is critical.

Erik Brooks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Brooks said...

Now THAT'S a fine way to start the Monday morning Meghan...

On a more upside note about talented illustrators, author/illustrators to boot, you'll be happy to know that I serendipitously found, read, and purchased a copy of STRONG MAN at my teeny tiny bookstore here in Winthrop, WA this past weekend. We are way WAY off the beaten path, but its a great bookstore with smart tastes :)

Stumbling across GEORGE UPSIDE DOWN in the Union Square Barns and Noble whilst visiting publishers in NYC 3 yrs ago was my first intro to your work, and I've been curiously following along ever since.

I know first hand that this is/can be a burnout way of life, but you do really great work.

Gambatte kudasai!

Looking forward to CITY HAWK this fall...

Don Tate II said...

I hope you have a very strong stomach. I did my internship at an osteopathic college. I was offered an opportunity to take an anatomy course. As a test, I was invited into the morgue. Just like the picture you have posted, students were cutting on dead bodies and talking and laughing, just like they were chatting around the office coffee pot. I was sick -- and spooked -- for a week.

Don Tate II said...

Oh, and I passed on the anatomy course.

Anna Alter said...

I too am WAY too squeamish for this kind of thing. I'll take drawing fluffy bunnies, thanks.

I hope our jobs don't get outsourced, it seems to me unlikely this will happen in the near future. Like you said understanding of cultural subleties is so important; there is so much more to making books than reproducing a singular image, it is not a simple technical skill.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Another important thing in publishing is the one-on-one contact. Most illustration jobs are done via phone, etc. but in publishing you develop relationships. I think that's another reason we won't be disposed of that easily! You can't have a lunch meeting with someone from india.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad this has been mentioned, Meghan.

A lot of the (hand) animation for American cartoons and movies is done in Asia these days. I'm sure there's a lot of direction/storyboarding done beforehand. I don't watch much of it, so I can't speak to the quality. However, I do pay attention to picture books.

There's so much subtext to a story that an illustrator provides that I can't see children's book illustrations being outsourced. Books are so much richer when done by someone familiar with the culture, aren't they?

I'm off on other shores (Japan) and really don't see what goes on there, but I think every effort should be made to promote/applaud the work of children's book illustrators. Their names should be included whenever the title and author are mentioned or printed. Publishers names as well. Jones/Shelley/Front Street, for instance, (commas if preferred). Are illustrators at book signings along with the authors? I see that some of you do school visits.

A picture book is a work of art and should be promoted that way, too.

Maya said...

luckily for me, medical illustration requires a special understanding, too. we show more than can be seen in a messy surgical photograph, we have to clarify, explain, expand, illuminate. and often work back and forth with the doctor or whatever content expert we have on the project. it's very scary, this new outsourcing, but we all have our fingers crossed that we will retain our value!

some friends of mine are working on a book project and had a chance to see some of the "outsourced" line drawings done for the publisher. they said they were horrible and they were also told that it was hard to get the proper corrections made. comforting in a way...

will we have to nab those clients who aren't willing to try it yet, or are coming back after having a bad experience?

someone at my professional organization made a good point as well - reverse it and think of all the people overseas we can be selling to. i'm not sure how, but it's a thought!

i know you will retain your value too. keep up the good work. and do check out medical illustration if you're really interested - it's very interesting! there are five graduate programs with websites, or start at